The ginaissance is so competitive these days that any gin hoping to make a splash must have a back story. Some seem to be the real McCoy but others have more than a little hint of the fevered brain of a marketing wallah about them. It’s probably best to take them with a pinch of salt or perhaps a slice of lemon and a dash of tonic. But one that seems to be the real deal is the one relating to Xoriguer Mahón Gin, a bottle of which I picked up in Alicante airport’s duty-free shop, as you do.
From 1708 to 1802 the island of Menorca, one of the Balearics in the western Mediterranean, and, specifically, its capital, Mahón was a regular stopping off point for British soldiers and sailors as they moved from Blighty to one of the far-flung parts of the Empire or vice versa. The troops and matelots, after being cooped up in confined quarters for so long, liked to stretch their legs and quench their thirst. One of the tipples that they kept asking for was gin. Rather than go to the cost and trouble of importing gins, the locals decided to have a go at distilling their own. The result was this gin, which was so popular, that when the military disappeared the locals continued distilling it for their own use.
What first caught my eye was the bottle. It is a bottle-green colour and shaped like a wine bottle with a dinky handle at the base of the neck. The top is a red screw ap. The front of the label has a picture, more accurately a drawing, of a windmill behind some agricultural buildings and the rear bears a description in Spanish which roughly translates as “made by complete distillation with juniper berries and wine alcohol, it offers a pleasant taste and represents the pride of an ancient tradition.” I may be doing the marketese an injustice, my Spanish is not that good, but I think you get the drift.
The two points to note are that it is juniper led, always a firm tick in the box for me, and that the base spirit is distilled from grapes, not so much of a tick from me but it seems to be the way with gins distilled in foreign parts. That, it seems, is a peculiarity of Xoriguer because to qualify as Mahón Gin any form of alcohol base, be it from grape, potato, sugar beet or wheat, will do. The next essential ingredient is juniper berries which must have an oil by weight content of between seven and nine per cent. The third component is distilled drinking water. And that’s it. No other aromas or extracts can be added.
What is absolutely essential, and a point the locals get steamed up about, is that the spirit together with the junipers are distilled in a copper still over a wood fire. Once distillation has been completed to their satisfaction, the hooch is filtered off. At an ABV of 38% it is at the lighter end of the gin strength spectrum but what it lacks in punch it makes up for in taste.
To the nose it is juniper heavy and there is very little else coming through, perhaps unsurprisingly given the proscriptions on the ingredients. To the taste it is incredibly thick and luscious, you almost get a juniper rush but there are some elements of citrus in there, admittedly faint but even these jaundiced taste buds detected it. The aftertaste is long and dry, peppery and a lingering taste of juniper.
If you love a juniper-heavy gin, and I do, check this one out. Ditch the stuffed donkey and sombrero and get yourself a bottle.
Until the next time, cheers!